Monday, December 22, 2014

All in All.

They sit under the tree - perfectly wrapped, waiting patiently to have impatient fingers open them, to experience the joy of the beholder, and to be used. These gifts that were thoughtfully chosen, wrapped in love, and perfectly placed... all for the joy of giving.

For this joy of giving.

I have realized there comes a moment in your life when you have to reach for the gift, unwrap it, and behold what was given to you. Sometimes what lies behind the wrapping paper may frighten us, but it is still a gift. Given out of love, waiting for the joy to wipe across you face. Hopefully. Then other times in our life the gift needs to be unwrapped by the giver...

Four months before Adam asked me to be his forever, we separated. It wasn't a fast break, it was a slow one. I pushed him away, fearful of what my emotions were doing to me. A recluse, I stopped answering phone calls, ignored him, I couldn't look at him anymore. These feelings of trust, hope, and most of all love - they scared the daylights out of me! The days that followed were some of my darkest ones, I didn't cry, didn't think, just filled myself with hate... convincing myself I was not worthy of love, I was a mess, and love always failed. Depression sank in, anxiety ate at my soul, and hopelessness and fear destroyed the rest. Yet, God had other plans. In my darkest he wanted me to know him fully.

So one cold December day, I stormed into my aunt's home and up to my room searching frantically for my bible. Great, you might be thinking, she wanted to see what God had to tell her - to search for biblical answers. No friend, I searched for the bible to curse God all the more fully. I hated him, hated. I was so angry and spiteful. Then I found it... the bible.

I found it, screamed, and threw it as hard as I could into the closet. When I went to toss myself on the bed I noticed a small folded paper had fallen out as the book soared through the air. I knelt down and picked it up, careful not to tear the worn paper - I unfolded it. The worn pencil markings on it read:

"Child of weakness
Watch and pray
Find in me 
Thine all in all."

I crawled into the closet and began to weep. A flood of emotions, so walled in broke free and poured out - heavy, flowing, no dam could shut off these waterworks. My pride and hate were shattered. Realization poured in as the God of all the universe wrapped this messy, pig-pen child in his arms and whispered...

You are weak. Child... you are weak. Look at me. Look, I am here. I am your all in all. I must be your all in all before any man can be your anything. Look at me, find that I am here. 
Watch how I love, it is unfailing. (Psalm 13:5)
Watch how I lived, it was righteous. (1 Peter 1:19)
Watch how I died, it was redemptive. (1 Corinthians 1:30)
Child... you are made in my image. You have access to all of that. To unfailing love, to a righteous life, to a redeemed spirit. 
I am love. If you live in love, you live in me.  (1 John 4:7-19)
Watch and pray.

Dear reader, please... please take note of this gift. This gift that I was afraid to unwrap because it was so wrapped in love. This gift that no fingers eagerly opened but instead like a new born child the gift was unwrapped before me, shown to me... by the one who adopted me as his own. This messy child, this human child. In my darkest most hateful moment - he said no more, listen I am here.

So I did and I realized I was scared to death of two truths:
1. God had to wreck me, take me, and make me new to make me fully his own.
2. To truly love (God or man), I had to lay down my wants and needs and in place of that seek to understand the one my soul longed for more. To watch and learn my love's ways... in order to be fully filled with better understanding.

I know. I know... but friend I also know this. I know that God made people for one purpose, to glorify himself. The people were too human and so they easily gave way to sin. The Creator of all could have been finished with us right then and there but he wasn't! No! Instead he loved us so much he put us... US... before his own, yes. He put his son's life before our deserving death sentence, one who knew no sin became sin so that we might be reconciled with the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). Why? Because he loved us (John 3:16). So why wouldn't I want to put down my wants and needs and receive this gift that I crave to not only hold but give back.

Stepping into God's way means leaving our ways behind. Marriage is that way. Following God is that way. All weakness are shown so that you must watch and pray, find your all in the one who made it all.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ye, of Little Experience

It seems contrary, writing a blog about marriage with only a drop over three years of experience behind you. Yet, I felt compelled to take this daunting task. One that might acquire much criticism or eyes rolled, but hopefully more laughter, joy, and realization that marriage is a blessing... from the beginning.

A few days ago, as my forefinger and eyes scrolled through endless Facebook posts, I came across another one about marriage. The lady has been married for 36 years or so and wanted everyone to know how they accomplished such a goal. I chuckled to myself as I pictured writing a blog about making it to three years, and being profoundly proud of that moment! So I thought, why not write about it... why not?

So let me tell you about my sweet husband and me.

We met when he was in 8th grade and I was in 9th. We became instant friends with years of hating each other, loving each other... that kind of friendship. He helped me through math, I helped him through life - dating other girls, too. He talked to me when my relationships failed, then one day my senior year after a terrible break-up, we decided to talk a little more seriously. So, one beautiful afternoon on the golf course, I walked straight up to him, kissed him on the cheek and said, "Adam, I really like you."

That's where it all began. 

We broke up a few months later; I went off to college. Then one cold January night he messaged me on MySpace just wanting to chat. We began to talk again after months of silence, and now we are here - happily married. (As I sit here in bed writing this, he is lying next to me -sick as a dog and snoring louder than the echo of a train in a mile long tunnel - and I wouldn't trade it for the world).

So why write?
What do I have to comment on, or credentials to display?
We do not have children.
We do not have years of experience.
We do not have all the good and the bad.

We do have love.
We do have failures.
We do have victories.
But most of all... we have God.

We recently moved to a town in the country, away from the city, away from family, away from friends.

Starting over we have had our meltdowns, but have had our buildups, too.
We have seen frustration, brokenness, and tears.
Yet, we have experienced joy, bonding, and faith.

I do believe that 36 years of marriage is a great feat. Fifty years, forty years... twenty years; you learn something at each of them but you cannot bound straight to fifty -- no you have to pass through three.

So in this blog, I will comment on the past, the present, and the future.
I will write about the struggles, the moving past it, and the growing older.
I will address the "children" subjects, the "financial" subjects, the "job" subjects.
Yet, all of it will be covered with the "God" imprint, and all of it will pour from my soul.

So ready or not, here we go.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Searching for Stones

The words marched out of my mouth like a song that has been played too many times. I had memorized the text in front of me, I only glanced to ensure accuracy. The students eyes stared at me as I pleaded with them to follow along. We've worked hard the past few weeks, multiple forms of activities, hands on, drilling, group and individual assignments... what else could we have done to guide them to this moment ensuring success?

Not much, unless more time was an option. 

So there they were, small groups of 5-11. I read the test aloud, encouraged them to attempted strategies that are taught daily in order to increase their chance of success. Yet only a few attempted. The rest... the rest just guessed! Forget the hard work, it's long gone... they don't want to be here. Maybe they have seen failure too often; I see it pouring out of their eyes, they believe it doesn't matter if they show evidence, no strategy will help them. 

My heart breaks, I become frustrated (with all my strength I try not to show it). The words desperately tumble out of my mouth again and again, "Please, use your strategies. Go back and justify your answer. Prove it! You have it in you to succeed, it just matters how much you're willing to try." 

Then she looks at me, "Are you serious Mrs. Palacios?" 
I nod my head. 
She nods hers, imitating the last glimpse of hope in my eyes.
So she tried... she really tried. 
The sweet girl who cried the last time she worked hard and still failed. The girl whom we (co-teacher and I) told... your time will come, don't give up. She didn't. That one girl, worked hard and soaked the ambitious words into her heart and ventured into the face of her giant pulling her strategies out one-by-one. My gosh, she put in effort... and success was hers to hold.

How many times in our life are we one of those discouraged children, who have been drilled over and over again, strategy after strategy, skill upon skill, and when the time comes to put it to the test we automatically raise the white flag?

Finished without a fight. 

What if David had eyed the Giant and timidly scurried away, just at one glance? There would be no fearless hero who won with a pocket full of a mere 5 stones ready to face adversity. 

A heart filled with confidence in the teacher, the LORD Almighty, and a handful of stones... he knew his strategies had defeated the most daring bears and lions, but would he trust his teacher and heart enough to face the most dreaded task? You see, David had practiced in all circumstances except against a human giant. However, when his world collided with opposition he didn't disappear. NO! He grabbed a significant tool, glared his giant in the eyes, and pitched the stone at the enemy who approached as if to engulf the young boy. 

I want to be like David, but so many times in life I am like my students. I want to be like the young girl who trusted me, pulling out the strategies she learned in her co-teach room. It was possible. She knew it, David knew it... do you acknowledge the possibility as well?  The possibility to defeat your giants? Do you have your stones? David only needed one... but he still held 4 more in his pocket. 

What are your stones?
The stones our God has taught you to use. 
Have you not acknowledged them yet, or have you used them over and over again?

I encourage you friend... because I need encouragement. I have found 3 stones that are significant when I face giants in my life. Stones that strengthen my wobble in the rage of a giant. Stones that put God first, empty me, and fill me with the spirit of strength... not timidity. Stones that scream, "THERE IS NO ROOM FOR ME! ONLY THE ONE WHO HAS DEFEATED THIS WORLD!" Stones that tug at my heart strings and I use them, because they will bring trust, hope, and a triumphant roar!

Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd's bag, and with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine. 
Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. "Come here," he said, " and I'll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!"
David said to the Giant, "You come against me with sword... but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty...",
As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching in to his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.
1 Samuel 17: 40-45, 48-49

Monday, December 1, 2014

I Haven't Always Liked Christmas...

It's true. Christmas, for a long time, has been one of my most dreaded holidays. I never really cared for it, I celebrated for the free gifts, the traveling... but if I had a choice I would have avoided it, all together.

Christmas reminded me that my life was not perfect. That my family was broken. That my life was shattered. It reminded me that I held a lot of grudges, hid a lot of pain, and mastered the facade of happiness.

That pain was too much to bear. To cope I would laugh and mock those who were so intoxicated with Christmas spirit that they trimmed the trees with ornaments and bows... in November! "Please," my heart would scream, "Just wait, and let Thanksgiving have its time."

Yet, this past year (I know I talk about it a lot) God changed me. He wrecked me, broke me, dipped me in water and wrung me until everything I was hiding basked out in the open. All the pain and lies that tormented my weary soul were sitting there, revealed. He gently sifted it out, masterfully leaving only the gold... the truth.

God took the gold pieces and gently put me back together again. Shiny and new. Alive. Full of love. Glowing with a radiant light.

Then Romania happened, a mission trip that was just another step in my healing process. While at a camp with some of the most beautiful souls we call orphans, I bravely told my testimony.  Soon after I was pulled into a room by a friend, a sweet Romanian, who wanted to pray for me. She wanted to pray that once again in my life, Christmas would be important, would be amazing, would be fulfilling. Well here I am my sweet friend, and your prayers are going far beyond the walls of that tiny hotel room. Your prayers have been pasted on my heart and my God has heard them, truly heard them. Here I am like an eager little child on Christmas morning, anticipating the celebration this year. Fully committed to focus whole-heartedly on the birth of Jesus because he has redeemed me.

Now, today... on Day 1, I sit here prepared for December 25th. The day Jesus was born. I want it all to be about him, I want to be overwhelmed with celebrating his quiet and humble birth. I want to experience all of it, to be filled with abounding joy and a light heart.

Although I am not a new christian, I am new to this idea of full freedom. Therefore, to me this Christmas is about remembering him walking humbly into my heart while celebrating his manger scene, hay filled, animals and shepherd rejoicing birth.

Much love,
Jesse Tree Advent Calendar